LANSING, Mich. -- It was only fitting that the Toyota-USA Hockey Girls Tier II 19U National Championships title game between the Portland Junior Pirates and East Coast Wizards would end in a 2-1 score.
That was the score of the Monday’s previous two national championship games at Suburban Ice, as the Assabet Red won the 14U crown over the Amherst Knights and the East Coast Wizards took 16U gold over Team Alaska.
In the day’s finale, the Maine-based Junior Pirates took a 2-0 lead during the second period and then held on after the Wizards made it 2-1 in the final minute of that stanza.
Portland coach Kent Hulst, a former Toronto Maple Leafs’ draft pick and longtime AHL player in Portland, said winning the championship against a tough team like the Wizards was no easy task.
“I’ve coached against Kevin [Potter, the Wizards’ assistant coach] before, and we know what teams each other has and today was a battle,” Hulst said. “I think both teams came out with jitters and then we were fortunate enough to get a couple bounces and hang on towards the end with some big saves [from goaltender Paige Fontaine, 20 saves in the game] and timely face-offs.”
Aimely Michaud-Nolan started the scoring for the Junior Pirates at 9:15 of the second period before Danita Storey made it 2-0 at 15:45.
The Wizards’ Nicole Saber cut the lead to 2-1 with 24 seconds left in the second period, but that would be all the scoring the game would see the rest of the way.
“We’ve had a few times during the year where we have got into some situations where the girls didn’t really know how to react,” Hulst said. “We just told them [in the third period] to control your emotions, play to the whistle, play to the buzzer, and if you do that, good things will happen. I think it helped us early in the year to get to this point when we were under a lot of pressure to get here and to win a championship.
“We have a pretty focused group of girls, and I’ve had a lot of these girls for many years coaching and they know what I want. Everything just came together this year with this team.”
Wizards’ coach Gerry Wright had his team with their heads held high after the game, saying there was no reason to be sullen and downtrodden.
“The girls played hard on both teams and we played them before and lost 4-1, but the girls [today] kept pressing, kept trying and that Maine team is a great team,” Wright said. “They play great team defense and they got the puck forward and they’re a deserving champion.”
Wright added that after Saber’s goal, there was a sense of urgency on the bench and in the Wizards’ locker room.
“That was a huge goal for us,” Wright said. “It allowed us to come out for the third period and start really strong, but Maine did a great job holding us off and our girls never stopped pushing to get the last goal, even down to the final minute.”
The Wizards pulled goaltender Caroline Kent (21 saves) with 24 seconds left, but could not find the equalizer.
“To get here and win after getting to some regionals and losing, it’s fun and I’m very happy for the group of girls and the parents who put in the time and effort throughout the year and also to get to this point,” Hulst said. “And to reward them with a win is a great way to finish our season.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.